NEWS

Wiretaps kept quiet for eleven months

With the wiretaps on government mobile phones still making waves, the unexplained death of Costas Tsalikidis has come under scrutiny. The wiretaps cannot be seen as separate from the apparent suicide of the Vodafone official most involved with the company’s systems just two days before the illegal software was found. Justice officials and the Communications Privacy Protection Authority (ADAE) are conducting investigations which may clarify the role of Tsalikidis – whether he had learned of the software and was under heavy pressure to hush it up or was even involved in installing it. Kathimerini asked government sources to explain why the government acted as it did when it learned of the wiretaps 11 months ago, who knew about them, when they found out, what they decided and why. Astute move Interestingly, the software could not have been installed by remote control. Some collaboration would have been needed between Vodafone technicians and the manufacturer, Ericsson, officials say. While the police probe saw no connection between the suicide and the wiretaps, government sources told Kathimerini they had serious reservations. Their view is bolstered by the persistent efforts by Vodafone Managing Director Giorgos Koronias to keep Tsalikidis’s death separate from the scandal. Though Koronias did speak of the suicide during meetings with the head of the prime minister’s office Yiannis Angelou, Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, Justice Minister Anastassios Papaligouras and Supreme Court prosecutor Dimitris Linos, he tried to smooth over the coincidence in two reports he submitted on the subject. It was an astute political move by the justice minister to have the prosecutor present at the meeting. Linos heard about the suicide and would have observed Koronias trying to avoid making any connection. «Everything moves in slow motion in Greece, and despite the urgency of the matter under investigation, the justice system has proved no exception,» said one source. No definite conclusion can be drawn from the text of the dead man’s diary which his brother handed over to the prosecutor. Sources say that he had written a note saying «something is not right at the company» but that alone is no proof of suicide. Linos deemed it necessary to postpone the preliminary investigation so as to make use of the police report which was examining complex technical factors. As to the culprits’ identity, government sources say there are various possibilities. Asked why ADAE was not informed immediately and asked to help, they say that the agency had just gone into operation at the time and was not in any position to carry out regular inspections. It was only in January 2005, a month before the wiretaps were discovered, that ADAE acquired a rudimentary staff of 10 specialists. Moreover, there is no legal obligation for the government to inform ADAE. The government chose to carry out the investigation in secret, and tried to limit the number of those in the know. Apart from Papaligouras, Voulgarakis and Minister of State Theodoros Roussopoulos, who handled the issue from the start, only three other government officials knew. After the media furor sparked by the disclosure, the government insisted that it acted «responsibly and transparently,» on the sole criterion of protecting the public interest. It chose not to publish Vodafone’s revelation until the accuracy and seriousness of the accusations had been checked and all factors were weighed up, given that it was a matter related to national security. The most painless course for the government would have been to make the accusation public at once but it chose the difficult course of keeping both the judicial and police investigations secret and of making them public after the preliminary investigation, government sources say. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s immediate order to take legal action showed that the government’s intention was always to bring the case into the open, they note. However, this unprecedented scandal, which touches on sensitive areas such as national security, the rights of the individual, and the privacy of communications, has offered the government a significant opportunity. It paves the way for a thoroughgoing review of the legislative framework for telephone companies. The premier is expected to announce harsher treatment of wiretapping with penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment and other stiff penalties when companies violate guarantees.